The Wiz (film)

The Wiz (film)

Infobox Film
name = The Wiz

amg_id = 1:55009
imdb_id = 0078504
director = Sidney Lumet
writer = Joel Schumacher
William F. Brown (original 1975 musical)
starring = Diana Ross
Michael Jackson
Nipsey Russell
Ted Ross
Mabel King
Theresa Merritt
Thelma Carpenter
Lena Horne
Richard Pryor
producer = Rob Cohen
cinematography = Oswald Morris
editing = Dede Allen
distributor = Universal Pictures
released = October 24, 1978
runtime = 134 min.
budget = $24,000,000
gross = $13,600,000
country = United States
language = English
music = Charlie Smalls
Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson
Anthony Jackson
Luther Vandross
Quincy Jones

"The Wiz" is a 1978 American musical film produced by Motown Productions and Universal Pictures, and released by Universal on October 24, 1978. An urbanized retelling of L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" featuring an entirely African-American cast, "The Wiz" was adapted from the 1975 Broadway musical of the same name. The film follows the adventures of Dorothy, a shy schoolteacher from Harlem, New York who finds herself magically transported to the wonderland of Oz — which resembles a fantasy version of New York City. Befriended by a Scarecrow, a Tin Man, and a Cowardly Lion, Dorothy travels through the world of Oz to seek an audience with the mysterious "Wiz", who they say has the power to take her home.

Produced by Rob Cohen and directed by Sidney Lumet, "The Wiz" stars Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Mabel King, Theresa Merritt, Thelma Carpenter, Lena Horne, and Richard Pryor. The film's story was reworked from William F. Brown's Broadway libretto by Joel Schumacher, and Quincy Jones supervised the adaptation of Charlie Smalls & Luther Vandross' songs for film. A handful of new songs, written by Jones and the songwriting team of Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, were added for the film version. Upon its original theatrical release, "The Wiz" was a critical and commercial failure, and marked the end of the resurgence of African-American films that began with the blaxploitation movement of the 1970s. [cite book | last =Moon | first =Spencer | coauthors =George Hill | title =Reel Black Talk: A Sourcebook of 50 American Filmmakers | publisher =Greenwood Press | date =1997 | pages =xii | id = | isbn = 0313298300] cite book | last =Benshoff | first =Harry M. | coauthors =Sean Griffin | title =America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies | publisher =Blackwell Publishing | date =2004 | pages =Page 88 | id = | isbn = 0631225838]


A Thanksgiving dinner brings a host of friends and family together in a Harlem home, where a twenty-four-year-old schoolteacher named Dorothy Gale (Diana Ross) lives with her Aunt Em (Theresa Merritt) and her Uncle Henry (Stanley Greene). Extremely introverted, Dorothy has, as her aunt teases her, "never been south of 125th Street", and refuses to move out and move on with her life.

While cleaning up after the dinner party, Dorothy's dog Toto runs out the open kitchen door into a violent snowstorm. Dorothy succeeds in retrieving him, but finds herself trapped in the snowstorm. A magical whirlwind - the work of Glinda the Good Witch (Lena Horne) - materializes and transports the woman and her dog to Oz. Upon her entrance into Oz, Dorothy smashes through an electric "Oz" sign, which falls upon and kills Evermean, the Wicked Witch of the East. As a result, Dorothy frees the Munchkins who populate the park into which Dorothy lands; the Munchkins had been transformed by Evermean into graffiti for "tagging" the park walls.

Dorothy soon meets The Munchkins' main benefactor, Miss One the Good Witch of the North (Thelma Carpenter), a magical "numbers runner" who gives Dorothy Evamean's powerful silver slippers. However, the frightened Dorothy desperately wants to get home. Miss One urges her to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and find the mysterious "Wiz", whom Miss One believes holds the power to send Dorothy back to Harlem. The good witch and the Munchkins then disappear, and Dorothy is left to search for the yellow brick road on her own.

The next morning, Dorothy happens upon a Scarecrow (Michael Jackson) made of garbage, whom she befriends. The two of them discover the yellow brick road, and happily begin to follow it together, Scarecrow hoping the Wiz might be able to give him the one thing he feels he lacks — a brain. Along the way to the Emerald City, Dorothy, Toto, and Scarecrow meet the Tin Man (Nipsey Russell) a turn-of-the-century amusement park mechanical man, and the Cowardly Lion (Ted Ross), a vain dandy banished from the jungle who hid inside one of the stone lions in front of the New York Public Library. The Tin Man and Lion join Dorothy and Scarecrow on their quest to find the Wiz, hoping to gain a heart and courage, respectively. Before the five adventurers reach the Emerald City, they must face obstacles such as a crazy Subway Peddler (a homeless man) with evil monsters in his control, and "Poppy" Girls (a reference to the poppy field from the original story) who attempt to put Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion to sleep with magic dusting powders.

Finally reaching the Emerald City (an analogue of the real-life World Trade Center plaza), the quintet gain passage into the city because of Dorothy's ownership of the silver shoes, and marvel at the spectacle of the city and its dancers. Dorothy and her friends gain an audience with the Wiz (Richard Pryor) who appears to them as a giant fire-breathing metallic head. The Wiz will only grant the travelers' wishes if they kill Evillene (Mabel King) the horrible Wicked Witch of the West, who runs a sweatshop in the sewers of New York. Evillene learns of Dorothy's quest to kill her, and sends out the Flying Monkeys (a motorcycle gang) to kidnap Dorothy and her friends.

After an extended chase, the Flying Monkeys succeed in capturing their prey, and bring the five interlopers back to Evillene. The Wicked Witch tortures the Lion, dismembers the Scarecrow, and flattens the Tin Man, in hopes of making Dorothy give her the silver shoes. When Evillene threatens to throw Toto into a fiery cauldron, Dorothy nearly gives in - until the Scarecrow hints to her to activate a fire sprinkler switch, which she does. The sprinklers put out the fire, but also melt and destroy Evillene, who is "allergic to water". With the Witch gone, her spells lose their power: the Winkies are freed from their costumes (revealing humans underneath), and their sweatshop tools disappear. The thankful Winkies rejoice in dance and praise Dorothy as their emancipator, and the Flying Monkeys give Dorothy and her friends a triumphant ride back to the Wiz.

Upon arriving back in Emerald City, the quintet take a back door into the Wiz's quarters, and discover that the Wiz is a "phony". The "great and powerful Oz" is actually Herman Smith, a failed politician from Atlantic City, New Jersey who was transported to Oz when a balloon he was flying to promote his campaign to become the city dogcatcher was lost in a storm. Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion are distraught that they will never receive their respective brains, heart, and courage, but Dorothy makes them realize that they had these things all along. Just as it seems as if Dorothy will never be able to go home again, Glinda the Good Witch appears and implores Dorothy to find her way home by searching within and using her silver slippers. Dorothy offers to help Herman if he'll agree to reveal himself, which he refuses. After thanking Glinda and saying good-bye to her friends, Dorothy takes Toto in her arms, thinks of home and the things she loves most about it, and after clicking her heels three times finds herself back in her neighborhood. A changed woman, Dorothy carries Toto back to their apartment and closes the door.


Pre-production and development

"The Wiz" was the eighth feature film produced by Motown Productions, the film/TV division of Berry Gordy's Motown Records label. Gordy originally wanted the teenaged future R&B singer Stephanie Mills, who had originated the role on Broadway, to be cast as Dorothy. When Motown star Diana Ross asked Gordy if she could be cast as Dorothy, he declined, saying that Ross, then thirty-three years old, was too old for the role.cite book | last =Adrahtas | first =Thomas | title =A Lifetime to Get Here: Diana Ross: The American Dreamgirl | publisher =AuthorHouse | date =2006 | pages =Pages 163-167 | id = | isbn = 1425971407] Ross went around Gordy and convinced executive producer Rob Cohen at Universal Pictures to arrange a deal where he would produce the film if Ross was cast as Dorothy. Gordy and Cohen agreed to the deal. Pauline Kael, a film critic, described Ross's efforts to get the film into production as "perhaps the strongest example of sheer will in film history."

After film director John Badham learned that Ross was going to play the part of Dorothy, he decided not to direct the film, and Cohen replaced him with Sidney Lumet. Of his decision not to direct "The Wiz", John Badham recalled telling Cohen that he thought Ross was "a wonderful singer. She's a terrific actress and a great dancer, but she's not this character. She's not the little six-year-old girl Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." [cite book | last =Emery | first =Robert J. | title =The Directors: Take One | publisher =Allworth Communications, Inc. | date =2002 | pages =Page 333 | id = | isbn = 1581152191] Though 20th Century Fox had financially backed the stage musical, they ended up exercising their first refusal rights to the film production, which gave Universal an opening to finance the film. Initially, Universal was so excited about the film's prospects that they did not set a budget for production.

Joel Schumacher's script for "The Wiz" was influenced by Werner Erhard's teachings and his Erhard Seminars Training ("est") movement, as both Schumacher and Diana Ross were "very enamored of Werner Erhard."cite book | last = Silvester | first = Christopher | coauthors = Steven Bach | title = The Grove Book of Hollywood | publisher = Grove Press |date=2002 | pages = Pages 555-560 | id = | isbn = ISBN 0802138780] "Before I knew it," said Rob Cohen, "the movie was becoming an est-ian fable full of est buzzwords about knowing who you are and sharing and all that. I hated the script a lot. But it was hard to argue with [Ross] because she was recognizing in this script all of this stuff that she had worked out in est seminars." Schumacher spoke positively of the results of the est training, stating that he would always be "eternally grateful for learning that I was responsible for my life." However, he also complained that "everybody stayed exactly the way they were and went around spouting all this bullshit." Of est and Erhard references in the film itself, "The Grove Book of Hollywood" notes that the speech delivered by the Glinda the Good Witch at the end of the film was "a litany of est-like platitudes," and the book also makes est comparisons to the song "Believe in Yourself."

During production, Lumet felt that the finished film would be "an absolutely unique experience that nobody has ever witnessed before."cite book | last =Lumet | first =Sidney | authorlink =Sidney Lumet | coauthors =Joanna E. Rapf | title =Sidney Lumet: Interviews | publisher =Univ. Press of Mississippi | date =2006 | pages =Page 78, 80 | id = | isbn = 1578067243] When asked about any possible influence from MGM's popular 1939 film adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz", Lumet stated that "there was nothing to be gained from [the 1939 film] other than to make certain we didn't use anything from it. They made a brilliant movie, and even though our concept is different - they're Kansas, we're New York; they're white, we're black, and the score and the books are totally different - we wanted to make sure that we never overlapped in any area."

Michael Jackson, a former Motown star who by the start of development on "The Wiz" in 1977, had left Motown for Epic Records with his brothers The Jacksons, was cast as the Scarecrow. Jackson was dedicated to the role, and watched videotapes of gazelles, cheetahs and panthers in order to learn graceful movements for his part. Ted Ross and Mabel King were brought in to reprise their respective roles from the stage musical, while Nipsey Russell was cast as the Tin Man. Lena Horne, mother-in-law to Sidney Lumet during the time of production, was cast as Glinda the Good Witch, and comedian Richard Pryor portrayed "The Wiz".

Principal photography

"The Wiz" was filmed at Astoria Studios in Queens, New York. The decaying New York State pavilion from the 1964 New York World's Fair was used as the set for Munchkinland, while the World Trade Center served as the Emerald City. cite book | last =Campbell | first = Lisa D. | title =Michael Jackson: The King of Pop | publisher =Branden Books | date =1993 | pages =Page 41 | id = | isbn = 082831957X] The scenes filmed at the Emerald City were elaborate, utilizing six hundred fifty dancers, three hundred eighty-five crew members and twelve hundred costumes. cite book | last =Kempton | first =Arthur | title =Boogaloo: The Quintessence Of American Popular Music | publisher =University of Michigan Press | date =2005 | pages =Page 316 | id = | isbn = 0472030876] Costume designer Tony Walton enlisted the help of high fashion designers in New York City for the Emerald City sequence, and obtained exotic costumes and fabric from designers such as Oscar de la Renta and Norma Kamali.cite book | last =Pecktal | first =Lynn | coauthors =Tony Walton | title =Costume Design: Techniques of Modern Masters | publisher =Back Stage Books | date =1999 | pages =Pages 215-218 | id = | isbn =082308812X ] Albert Whitlock created the film's visual special effects, while Stan Winston served as the head makeup artist.

Quincy Jones was the musical supervisor and music producer for the film. He later wrote that he initially did not want to work on the film, but did it as a favor to Sidney Lumet.cite book | last =Jones | first =Quincy | authorlink =Quincy Jones | title =Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones | publisher =Broadway Books | date =2002 | pages =Pages 229, 259 | id = | isbn = 0767905105] The film production marked Jones' first time working with Michael Jackson, and Jones would later produce three hit albums for Jackson: "Off the Wall", "Thriller", and "Bad". [cite book | last =Bronson | first =Fred | title =Billboard's Hottest Hot 100 Hits | publisher =Watson-Guptill | date =2003 | pages =Page 107 | id = | isbn = 0823077381] Jones recalled working with Jackson as one of his favorite experiences from "The Wiz", and spoke of Jackson's dedication to his role, comparing his acting style to Sammy Davis, Jr.

Critical reception

Critics panned "The Wiz" upon its October 1978 release.cite book | last =Sharp | first =Kathleen | title =Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood: Edie and Lew Wasserman and Their Entertainment Empire | publisher =Carroll & Graf Publishers | date =2003 | pages =357-358 | id = | isbn = 0786712201] cite book | last =Posner | first =Gerald | title =Motown: Musi, Money, Sex, and Power | publisher =Random House | date =2002 | location =New York | pages =Pgs. 293-295 | id = | ] Many reviewers directed their criticism at Diana Ross, whom they believed was too old to play Dorothy.cite book | last =Hischak | first =Thomas S. | title =Through the Screen Door: What Happened to the Broadway Musical When It Went to Hollywood | publisher =Scarecrow Press | date =2004 | pages =Pages 140-142 | id = | isbn = 0810850184] cite book | last =Halstead | first =Craig | coauthors =Chris Cadman | title =Michael Jackson the Solo Years | publisher =Authors On Line Ltd | date =2003 | pages =25, 26 | id = | isbn =0755200918 ] cite book | last =Studwell | first =William E. | coauthors =David F. Lonergan | title =The Classic Rock and Roll Reader | publisher =Haworth Press | date =1999 | pages =Page 137: "Ease On Down the Road" | id = | isbn = 0789001519] cite book | last =George | first =Nelson | title =Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound | publisher =St. Martin's Press | date =1985 | pages =Pg. 193 | id = | ] Most agreed that what had worked so successfully on stage simply didn't translate well to the screen. Hischak's "Through the Screen Door: What Happened to the Broadway Musical When It Went to Hollywood" criticized "Joel Schumacher's cockamamy screenplay," and called "Believe in Yourself" the score's weakest song. He described Diana Ross' portrayal of Dorothy as: "cold, neurotic and oddly unattractive," and noted that the film was "a critical and box office bust." In his work "History of the American Cinema", Harpole characterized the film as "one of the decade's biggest failures," and: "the year's biggest musical flop." "The Grove Book of Hollywood" noted that "the picture finished off Diana Ross's screen career," as the film was Ross' final theatrical feature. [cite book | last =Laufenberg | first =Norbert B. | title =Entertainment Celebrities | publisher =Trafford Publishing | date =2005 | pages =Page 562 | id = | isbn = 1412053358] In his book "Blockbuster", Tom Shone referred to "The Wiz" as "expensive crud." [cite book | last =Shone | first =Tom | title =Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer | publisher =Simon and Schuster | date =2004 | pages =Page 34 | id = | isbn =0743235681 ] In the book "Mr. and Mrs. Hollywood", the author criticized the script, noting: "The Wiz" was too scary for children, and too silly for adults." Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow in the 1939 "Wizard of Oz" film, did not think highly of "The Wiz", stating: "The Wiz" is overblown and will never have the universal appeal [the 1939 film] has obtained." [cite book | last =Fantle | first = David | coauthors =Tom Johnson | title =Reel to Real | publisher =Badger Books Inc. | date =2004 | pages =Page 58 | id = | isbn = 1932542043]

Michael Jackson's performance as the Scarecrow was one of the only positively reviewed elements of the film, with critics noting that Jackson possessed "genuine acting talent" and "provided the only genuinely memorable moments."cite book | last =Jackson | first =Michael | authorlink =Michael Jackson | coauthors =Catherine Dineen | title =Michael Jackson: In His Own Words | publisher =Omnibus Press | date =1993 | pages =Page 4 | id = | isbn =0711932166 ] Of the results of the film, Jackson stated: "I don't think it could have been any better, I really don't." [cite book | last =Crouse | first =Richard | title =Big Bang Baby: The Rock and Roll Trivia Book | publisher =Dundurn Press Ltd. | date =2000 | pages =158-159 | id = | isbn =0888822197 ] In 1980, Jackson stated that his time working on "The Wiz" was "my greatest experience so far...I'll never forget that." The film received a positive critique for its elaborate set design, and the book "American Jewish Filmmakers" noted that it "features some of the most imaginative adaptations of New York locales since the glory days of the Astaire-Rogers films.cite book | last =Desser | first =David | coauthors =Lester D. Friedman | title =American Jewish Filmmakers | publisher =University of Illinois Press | date =2004 | pages =Page 198 | doi =
id = | isbn = 0252071530
] In a 2004 review of the film, Christopher Null wrote positively of Ted Ross and Richard Pryor's performances.cite news | last =Null | first =Christopher | title =The Wiz Movie Review, DVD Release | work | publisher =Christopher Null | date =2004 | url = | accessdate = 2007-11-06] However, Null's overall review of the film was critical, and he wrote that other than the song "Ease on Down the Road", "..the rest is an acid trip of bad dancing, garish sets, and a Joel Schumacher-scripted mess that runs 135 agonizing minutes. In a 2005 piece in "The Washington Post", the article described Diana Ross's singing as "a marvel". [cite news | last =Stuever | first =Hank | title =Michael Jackson On Film: No Fizz After 'The Wiz' | work =The Washington Post | pages =Page N01 | publisher =The Washington Post Company | date = January 30, 2005 | url = | accessdate = 2007-11-05] "The Wiz" was later nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Music Score and Best Cinematography, although it did not win in any of those categories. [cite web | last =Staff | title =Database search for "The Wiz" | work | date =2007 | url = | accessdate = 2007-11-02 ] [cite book | last =Langman | first =Larry | title =Destination Hollywood: The Influence of Europeans on American Filmmaking | publisher =McFarland & Company | date =2000 | pages =Pages 155, 156 | id = | isbn = 078640681X]

Commercial reaction

"The Wiz" proved to be a commercial failure, as the $24 million production only earned $13.6 million at the box office. Though prerelease TV broadcast rights had been sold to CBS for over $10 million, in the end, the film produced a net loss of $10.4 million for Motown and Universal.cite book | last =Harpole | first =Charles | title =History of the American Cinema | publisher =Simon and Schuster | date =2003 | pages =64, 65, 219, 220, 290 | id = | isbn = 0684804638] At the time, it was the most expensive film musical ever made.cite news | last =Skow | first =John | title =Nowhere Over the Rainbow | work =TIME | publisher =Time Warner | date =October 30, 1978 | url =,9171,912236,00.html | accessdate = 2007-11-06] The film's failure steered Hollywood studios away from producing the all-black film projects which had become popular during the blaxploitation era of the early-to-mid 1970s for several years. [cite book | last =Moon | first =Spencer | coauthors =George Hill | title =Reel Black Talk: A Sourcebook of 50 American Filmmakers | publisher =Greenwood Press | date =1997 | pages =xii | id = | isbn = 0313298300] cite book | last =Benshoff | first =Harry M. | coauthors =Sean Griffin | title =America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies | publisher =Blackwell Publishing | date =2004 | pages =Page 88 | id = | isbn = 0631225838] The film has been available on VHS home video since the 1980s, and is periodically broadcast on television, often on Thanksgiving Day. [cite book | last =Nowlan | first =Robert A. | coauthors =Gwendolyn Wright Nowlan | title =Cinema Sequels and Remakes, 1903-1987 | publisher =McFarland & Co Inc Pub | date =1989 | pages =Page 834 | id = | isbn = 0899503144] The film was released on DVD in 1999;Jackson, Alex (2008)." [ DVD review of "The Wiz: 30th Anniversary Edition"] . "Film Freak Central". Retrieved March 9, 2008.] a remastered version entitled "The Wiz: 30th Anniversary Edition" was released in 2008. [cite news | last =Conti | first =Garrett | title =New DVD releases include 'Gone Baby Gone' | work =Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | date =February 12, 2008 | url = | accessdate = 2008-02-15 ] [cite news | last =Caine | first =Barry | title =All you need is 'Across the Universe' on DVD | work =Contra Costa Times | publisher =San Jose Mercury News | date =February 8, 2008 ] Extras on both DVD releases include a 1978 featurette about the film's production and the original theatrical trailer.



"All songs written by Charlie Smalls, unless otherwise noted."

#"Overture Part I" (instrumental)
#"Overture Part II" (instrumental)
#"The Feeling That We Had" - Aunt Emma and Chorus
#"Can I Go On?" "(Quincy Jones, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson)" - Dorothy
#"Tornado"/"Glinda's Theme" (instrumental)
#"He's The Wizard" - Miss One and Chorus
#"Soon As I Get Home"/"Home" - Dorothy
#"You Can't Win, You Can't Break Even" - Scarecrow and The Four Crows
#"Ease On Down The Road #1" - Dorothy and Scarecrow
#"What Would I Do If I Could Feel?" - Tin Man
#"Slide Some Oil to Me" - Tin Man
#"Ease On Down The Road #2" - Dorothy, Scarecrow, and Tin Man
#"I'm A Mean Ole Lion" - Cowardly Lion
#"Ease On Down The Road #3" - Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion
#"Poppy Girls Theme" "(Anthony Jackson)" (instrumental)
#"Be a Lion" - Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion
#"End Of The Yellow Brick Road" (instrumental)
#"Emerald City Sequence" "(music: Jones, lyrics: Smalls)" - Chorus
#"Is This What Feeling Gets? (Dorothy's Theme)" "(music: Jones, lyrics: Ashford & Simpson)" - Dorothy (vocal version not used in film)
#"Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News" - Evillene and the Winkies
#"Everybody Rejoice/A Brand New Day" "(Luther Vandross)" - Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Chorus
# "If You Believe In Yourself (Dorothy)" - Dorothy
#"The Good Witch Glinda" (instrumental)
#"If You Believe In Yourself (Reprise)" - Glinda the Good Witch
#"Home (Finale)" - Dorothy

ee also

*The Wiz (Broadway musical)
*The Wizard of Oz (adaptations) — other adaptations of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
*Wicked (musical)


External links


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